The Rut in Big Sky, Montana

The Rut in Big Sky, Montana

by Rebecca Walker

The Rut is a 3-day mountain running event in Big Sky, Montana. It is also part of the Skyrunner Series (both USA & World). There is a decent amount of prize money, over $5,000 this year, so the race can draw some talented athletes. The Rut takes place over Labor Day weekend. For 2019, registration opens on January 8 at 8 am MST – mark your calendar! The 28K sold out in less than 3 hours last year.

The Rut has something for everyone in terms of distance and ability.

View of Lone Peak from the entry of the Big Sky Resort


The long weekend begins with the “running” the Lone Peak vertical kilometer – 3 miles with over 3600’ of climbing.


Probably the most popular distance, and the one I ran, the 28K. 17.6 miles with 7,800’ of climbing, including summiting Lone Peak (11,166’). After the 28k course closes there is a kid’s race, which is considered the highlight of the weekend.


Events are the 50K (10,500’ of climbing) and the 11K, which Ariel (age 12) ran, boasts an impressive 1,700’ of climbing. Chatting with spectators that day I learned there would be several kids as young as age 7 running! There were 15 people that completed the inaugural “trifecta” of running all three days! (Yep, that’s over 52 miles and 21,700’ of climbing!)

  • A challenge! No matter which distance you’re running, there is going to be climbing (and some steeper descents to accompany them. I chose to use trekking poles as I’m not a great climber. They were helpful on the lower, less technical climbs. Some of the later climbing was a little scary – as I had some scrambling and narrow ridges to navigate, all while holding the poles.
  • Course markings were impeccable – different colored flags for each distance. Confidence markings on point, no need to learn orienteering for this one.
  • Varying terrain – most of the pictures on the website show Lone Peak – which is reminiscent of a Colorado 14er. Lots of scree and talus, as tree line is under 9,000’. For the 28K there are 3 “major” climbs – two of them on the rockier terrain. However, the sections below tree line were nice single track and lined with trees.
Descent from Lone Peak
Elkhorn Trail
Andesite Mountain
  • Weather – Unpredictable. In 2016 there was horrible winter weather that forced an alternate route for the 50K and in 2017 temperatures reached the mid 90’s. Going into it, I knew to expect the unexpected. We lucked out with perfect weather. Blue skies and moderate temperatures. Fairly windy on the peaks. Definitely plan for layers as it was cold at the start, warm in the early miles, windy/chilly at the top, then warm again. I wore a light jacket, but arm sleeves would have been preferred as they are easier to use when dealing with a pack.
  • The 28K had just three aid stations, with time cutoffs for the last two. Mileage-wise they weren’t too far apart, but if you are a slower climber (like me), be sure to carry enough water for a few hours.
  • Extras – For the last few years there has been a local tattoo artist doing race-specific tattoos for free!! (With a recommended donation)
  • My daughter Ariel and I both exceeded our goals. Mine was to just beat cutoff, and Ariel had a fairly modest time goal. She ended up getting 2nd in her age group (under 19!), running the last half with the 3rd place finisher, a local.


  1. Fly into Bozeman and rent a car. There may be inexpensive hotels to stay at north of Big Sky, but we didn’t come from that direction. I started looking at lodging/travel immediately after registering and lots of places were already booked. So if you are planning on running, it wouldn’t hurt to reserve things sooner rather than later.
  2. Jenny Lake

    Drive! There are a handful of different routes – the quickest way is boring, up I-25. We drove the scenic route). Do keep in mind that you’ll go through both Yellowstone and Grand Teton, so there are 2 entrances fees (unless you have an annual National Parks pass). Tip for the parks – have cash. If you are camping, some places are cash only (and don’t give change). We spent three days camping in the parks on our way home – perfect time of year for recovery hiking.

  3. Lodging in Big Sky is pricey – it’s a resort / ski town, so be prepared to spend some money if you want to stay there. There are places to camp within 20-30 minutes, but they are first come, first serve. We lucked out our first night and got a spot at Red Cliff. Second night, not so lucky, we ended up car camping.



If you plan on driving, know that there is very little cell service (at least for me, I have AT&T). It certainly could be beneficial to have a paper map instead of relying solely on your phone for directions/maps, etc.

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